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CIRCUIT of Ireland Rally winner Juho Hanninen claimed the triumph was one of the toughest victories of his career.

The Finn took the title by 44.2 seconds after favourite Andreas Mikkelsen's smash resulted in a one-night stay in hospital.

Hanninen said: "It was one of my toughest victories but also one of my most enjoyable because all the time I was fighting, fighting with Andreas.

"We had to push on every stage but in the end it was he who was unlucky and not me.

"I think it was about luck on this rally because the changing weather conditions were very difficult and it was easy to get caught out."

Mikkelsen had been on a charge for the lead only 2.3 seconds behind when his Skoda crashed at the first corner of the Lisburn Power Stage.

He completed the stage but reported feeling dazed after losing 40 seconds. Skoda UK Motorsport later said in a statement: "Andreas spent the night in hospital as a precautionary measure where it was discovered he has a perforated right eardrum which will heal."

Mikkelsen's second place maintained his lead at the top of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge drivers' standings.

And Jan Kopecky made it a Skoda 1-2-3 with third ahead of France's Mathieu Arzeno - team-mate of Ireland's Craig Breen.

Breen, 22, from Wexford was the first Irish rally driver in fifth using a Sainteloc Peugeot for the first time.

He said: "We suffered because of the fuel pump and it has taken time for me to bed into the car but after reaching the finish I feel confident going to Corsica."

The National Rally was won by Markethill's Darren Gass, 23, who dominated on his local stages to claim full points in the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.


AIR WE GO Juho Hanninen pushes his Skoda to the max WINNERS Hanninen, right, with co-driver Mikko Markkula
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 9, 2012
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